The Underground - 1
Following on from interest in the article, Repositioning church as a mission agency, one of the recommended books was Underground Church by Brian Sanders.
The book is the true story of a 10-year experiment that unpacks the possibilities of a church structured and streamlined for mission. Over the last ten years the church has been validating its ideas with sustained and growing results. At The Underground, being the church is not focused around a weekly gathering or church programmes. It's about empowering individuals to respond to God's call to ministry and mission, especially to the poor and disadvantaged in our midst.
While many churches talk about discerning calling and engaging in mission, very few are structured to make this their ministry focus. Underground Church is a new vision for the church rooted in its biblical mission to share the love of God and serve the poor. Brian Sanders explores how to make structural changes, how to think about leadership, how to fund ministries, and how to truly engage people in God's mission. With creative insights, he explains what it means to centre the mission of the church around the callings of individuals to outward ministry - whether that involves leading Bible studies in the workplace, feeding the homeless, or working to free women and children from sex trafficking.
I've picked some insights but every reader will find their own. Due to volume, these will be presented in a couple of posts - there could be more but you will need to buy the book!
They stripped down "church" as they knew it down to its component parts - hashing out the convictions and frustrations with each part e.g. money, evangelism, justice, buildings, authority, etc. As part of this, a group went to the Philippines for several months to work among the poor alongside churches there and think through things outside of their culture. To inherit a version of church, no matter how inspired its inception, is to fail to be the church in our own generation.
There was no master plan, only a common yearning and a desire to search together. They simply could not continue heading down the familiar path. They had read the New Testament with wonder but then looked at their own experience with disappointment. A movement for change doesn't always need a clear vision from the start. Sometimes it is best to start with only an invitation to pursue God together. In doing this, they discovered the heart of God and his intention for them.
Out of this came an aspirational Manifesto. It gave voice to their yearning not just their doctrine. Here is a short summary:
Jesus. The way of Jesus is their way. They worship by imitating his life and ministry. All values flow from what they understand about his character, concerns and practices.
The Poor. They remember the poor because God does. It is central to his mission for the world. The church should stand on the side of the poor. Resources are prioritised to the poor.
The Lost. Lost people are spiritually poor. The good news of the kingdom is the most important news that the church and people of God have been entrusted with. The church should not expect people to come and find them, but they are called and sent to seek and save that which was lost.
The Whole World. They understand their most transforming ministry will be where they are planted but they commit to the mission of God to reach the whole world.
Culture and Ethnicity. Every culture and ethnicity reflects the mosaic of God's own image. They value every people, language and culture in their city and in the world. They purpose to become a multi-ethnic community.
Contextualisation. They will not trust in franchising, replication of the same paradigm. They value the empowerment of every micro-church to contextualise the gospel to the people they hope to reach. There is no one paradigm.
Zeal and Contemplation. They value both exuberance and zeal as well as the importance of silence, rhythms and rest.
Simplicity. They commit to a life free from clutter and materialism, a simple lifestyle. Willingly using money and material things for kingdom and ministry to the poor.
Sharing and Giving. Sharing promotes relationship and breaks possessiveness. Giving destroys the grip of materialism. God is the owner, they are stewards. Generosity and holding things in common is encouraged.
Each Other. They commit to each other. God calls us into his mission together, never alone.
Kingdom Mission. They are sent people. A church is not a church until it is engaged in mission, co-labourers with God in the harvest field.
Humility. They commit to pursue humility in leadership, community, relationships, theology, and contextualisation of mission.
Biblical Justice. They live for the biblical concept of justice. They will take prophetic stands against all kinds of evil, not only spiritual but societal. There is a call to seek the welfare of every person in their city and elsewhere where they have influence.
Passion. They should be moved by their relationship with God and maintain a high level of dedication in all they do for him. This could involve suffering and sacrifice. The kingdom is not built by selfish ambition but through passionate, sacrificial love.
Prayer and Dependence on God. They are committed to a life of prayer because only God can accomplish what he calls us to do and he should receive the glory.
Micro-churches. The most basic expression of church. When believers work together in sincere worship and genuine community to accomplish a part of the mission of God, they are the church. Worship, community, mission are the ecclesial minimum. The larger church expression exists to serve the smaller.
The Bible. We trust in the authority, reliability and truth of the Bible.
Empowerment. They affirm the priesthood of all believers. Each believer, through the Spirit of God, has a unique calling from Jesus to fulfil in mission and the church. They work towards empowering each believer to fulfil their calling.
The sum of all of these is greater than its parts. The Underground serves and empowers the people of God to to do the work and the will of God. They teach and equip but do not command and control. They organise and centralise e.g. training, web site generation for micro-churches, etc., to serve people, never to obligate them. They are a community of creed and covenant not homogenity or ethnocentricity. They have established structures that remember and prioritise the poor. They give away more money than they use.
Watch this 3 minute video:
To be continued... Next part is here.
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Geoff Knott, 08/06/2021